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Interesting Book Re-print

Started by Alan F, December 25, 2017, 09:58:51 PM

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Printle: A Printing Word Game from Metal Type

Alan F

I found in my stocking an interesting re-print of The Printers' Vocabulary first published in 1888.
Amongst some interesting words and phrases that brought back a fair few memories, I've been listing down some type size names. Does anyone know when these fell from use and how they relate to the point system. Haven't got through the whole book yet so there may be more! I think I've got them in ascending order of size.
Long Primer
Small Pica
Great Primer
Double Pica

Keri Szafir

Pica has never fallen out of use, it's still around in DTP and computer typesetting / graphic design.
What is interesting, two definitions are in use: (I'm not counting the cicero, it doesn't seem to have modern use anymore, besides manual typesetting here in Europe).
And if you look closer... both of them were around in the Monotype hot metal world.
The "modern computer PostScript pica" was in fact the older unit used by Monotype, before they switched over to pica = .1660". I don't exactly know when it happened, might be 40s or 50s... John?.
For example, most of the normal wedges made for the continental European markets were based on .1667" pica (which means 18 units 12-set, 24 units 9-set, 36 units 6-set etc. was all 1/6 inch wide), even though cicero was used in typesetting rather than pica.
"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." --Arthur C. Clarke
"A thing of beauty is a joy for ever." --John Keats
Founder and owner of Keritech Electronics

John Cornelisse

When the English Monotype compagny started with E-wedges? Who knows?

What I do know, is that E-wedges were only used at the European continent, France, Germany, Holland, Belgium etc...

All those wedges were marked with an extra E: S5-12E, etc.

All manuals Polish, Swedish, German etc. contain tables based on a .1667 inch pica, and for sure those tables differ in many details.

By the way, I have seen Fournier-sized moulds too. Not all moulds at the continent were Didot-sized moulds! When the customer did ask, Monotype made the mould for sure.

Most moulds on the continent were made for .928" height, French height. But at Monotype-UK this was called "Didot-height"...

Gerry Drayton was very surprised, when I informed him about the difference between French, Belgium and Dutch heights...

French = .928" , Belgium = .932" Dutch = .9875"

John Cornelisse

I recently acquired another book about this subject:

"Origin of the American Point System for Printers' Type Measurement" by Rich Hopkins, 1976.

It explains a lot about the change to a more uniform to measure the size of character on paper.

Another Dutch book "Van leerling tot Zetter", L. Ronner, N.V. Drukkerij De nieuwe tijd, Amsterdam, 1914, explains a lot about all at that time gone.

Simon Pierre Fournier, 1737: 1 Paris foot = 12 thumbs, 1 thumb = 12 stripes, 1 stripe = 6 points... Fournier measured his typesizes in threefold pointsizes.

This paris foot was not a legal size, and brought no unity in the printing industry in France.

A.F. Didot: 1811: 1 Kings Foot = 1 foot = 12 thumbs, 1 thumb = 12 stripes, 1 stripe = 12 points... This point was too small, two of these points, became the Didot-point.

The French government, ordered printshop to use Didot-sizes, whenever they did some printing for the French court. They had still a king at that time.

In 1860 the Paris typefounder Derrieu tries a decimal system, this was not a success.

1867: Lahaye  proposed to make 3 points equal to 1 milimeter. An other proposal was: 2 points = 1milimeter. Both systems were discarded by the trade. The 1890 conference in Antwerp based the typographical point at the milimeter, no success was reached.

In Germany there were different point-systems in the different German states, the Berlin typefounder Herman Bertold, made one meter equal to 2660 points, according to the French Didot system... In 1879 this was legalized in Germany.

The old names for typesizes... they were still used for a long time...

In America, was it 1871, that the firm Marder, Luse & Co, started a reform. It ended with 1 meter as the basis: 166 Nonparel = 35cM...

Another thing is type-height: After this, printers needed still to be careful with type, because typeheight, was of course not yet standardized at all.

Using type bought from different typefoundries... that will give problems with printing, and the need to adjust the press before the job is done.

In Holland there were two typefoundries at the end of the metal-age: Enschede & zonen, en Lettergieterij Amsterdam. Their definition of Dutch typeheight was different. Only a tiny bit, but large enough to make a normal character bold, when combined with xharacter from the "wrong" typefoundry. All was done to bind the customers...


Another interesting fact with these type-heights were the moulds used by the Netherlands Governmental Printing Office in The Haque.  The "Staatsdrukkerij" used Monotype composition casters and supercasters. Only a very few people knew, that the moulds used here were made at "Belgium" height. .932"... This was sure done to prevent the use of this type by other printers in Holland.

In those days, the Monotype department in Amsterdam insisted, that all machines bought by printers from foreign countries, were first brought to Amsterdam. Monotype Amsterdam did the revision, and adjusted the machine to the Dutch height moulds. After that operation the machine was not very cheap anymore...

Whenever you were so bold, to buy a machine in Belgium or elsewhere, and bring it into your workshop... Max Stiebner - one of the headoffice board in Amsterdam - he was the only mechanic capable of "helping" you out:

Friday afternoon, he came to your atelier, when all people working with the machines had quit their job. He was busy that evening, the next Saturday, and part of Sunday. Lodging in a nearby hotel. Replacing any piece that was a little bit worn...

The bill was of course in 5 figures.

But actually he only needed to replace the type-carrier Xd20B (plate 6), the slide p5CC (plate 29) at the rear of the machine, and after this the bridge needed to be readjusted with three papers and two papers.

All this only needs half an hour... at the most for an experienced guy.

At machines using English, French, Belgium height the matrix-case need to go down a bit further...

Whenever you could find a machanic otherwise to do the job for you, Monotype refused to maintain your machines in future. Because it was done by "unauthorized" people according to Monotype.

The last composition caster machine surviving of the "Staatsdrukkerij" stood for a long time in Voorburg in the museum-printshop "TheHaghe". It was scraped, even long time pensioned Max Stiebner was not willing to reveal his "secrets"... All the Belgium height moulds were discarded too.

Even at the dutch museum typefoundry "Stichting Lettergieten" in Westzaan, Holland, Max discarded a lot of old moulds, only constant height moulds - with the plates at the boxes - were kept... Early constant height moulds are numbered with 6 figures stating with 100... Those mould were not recognized. Much of these moulds came to me, but when I told Max about the french heiht moulds between them... He insisted the french height moulds back. These were scraped...

At that time I did not yet know how to adjust the machine properly to another typeheight...


So I had found different height moulds, but of course Max did not explain to me, how to use them.

I asked Gerry Drayton (now 93 years of age ! in 2018) what to do, when he visited my atelier.

In London didot-height moulds (.928") were tested with extra plates under the bridge. He even did not know about Dutch and Belgium heights. But he immediately recognized the 100xxx numbered constant height moulds I had received from Westzaan.

After some experimenting - Gerry and I - were capable to adjust the machine and we could cast at different heights. After changing the cross-slide 5dCC, the dutch typecarrier can stay: it will hold lower character anyway. And raising a lower mould is also possible, then the dutch cross-slide can stay too. Using a french/english height cross-slide with dutch height moulds does not give problems also. The matrixcase will not excape from it.

At present I have a few extra bridges, each bridge is marked and adjusted different... Quite handy when needed.


Max Stiebner, he lived a 102 years, and he founded with another old collegue, the typemuseum in Westzaan. They collected a lot of Monotype parts, machines, moulds and matices... with this they did good work indeed.


There was a big pile of wedges at this place too. According old habits, this museum has a wedge for every different matric-case available. So that pile was not needed by Westzaan. It was scraped too, but this was done long before Max passed away. I do not know who took the decision.

The result: they cannot help anybody who is searching for a wedge. Is that the way to preserve Monotype technique and all what Tolbert Lanston started ?


Another advertisement for this "Stichting Lettergieten Westzaan" is the rusty base of an dismantled Supercaster outside the building in rain and wind. This machine was scraped, it had been in storage for a long while. They could have found a young man of woman, willing to start casting with it, and would have a chance to educate new people in the trade. But why ? That would be another competitor and as long as you are there, you keep your knowledge for yourself.


One time, during a visit to the old Max Stiebner in his new flat in Amsterdam East, I explained the man how we did the job... He did not say a word, only a big smile was there. no comment at all. He was a nice friendly man, but sharing his knowledge in full, no way.

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